Therapeutic Insight: The John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release Perspective—Fragmented Thinking, MASSAGE MagazineI wrote the following words in the late 1980s, more than 25 years ago, which were then placed in chapter three of my book, Myofascial Release: The Search for Excellence, published in 1990.

As knowledge of human physiology, including cellular and molecular biology, has grown, health professions have been challenged to accept innumerable new ideas. Resistance to many of them has been inevitable. Many obstacles to new knowledge have been overcome, however, and each new step can be considered as a stimulus to take a few more. Are we ready for the next one?

Moving ahead, changing our paradigm to fit our new knowledge requires courage, flexibility, strength and foresight. Doing so offers the potential for substantially improving our effectiveness with respect to our clients, and opens up huge vistas of opportunity. Essentially, therefore, we do not have a choice. Our mandate is to keep current and offer our clients the highest quality of care possible.

Changing the paradigm

A paradigm is a way of describing, believing and understanding what we consider to be real. A paradigm shift changes our models of reality, our concepts and logic, and thus it can create anxiety, fear and anger in people who are deeply entrenched in the status quo. For others, it represents an opportunity for growth. Fear paralyzes some, while for others it provides the stimulus and motivation to move to higher and deeper levels of understanding, awareness and achievement.

Historical perspective

Our current paradigm springs from the centuries-old logic of Aristotle. In it, everything is isolated, individual and separate. There is “no middle ground, no shades of gray. This kind of thinking makes one theory wrong because another is right, or one person wrong because another is right,” I previously wrote. Such thinking is exclusionary; it does not acknowledge connectedness among individuals or allow for the possibility of coexistence.

The universe as perceived by Isaac Newton and René Descartes is a giant machine that functions precisely, logically, sequentially and correctly. This model of classic physics, which is the basis of our current paradigm, is characterized by arrogance because it allows for only one correct solution. In the field of medical science, it has reduced human illness to the biochemistry of disease, completely losing sight of the fact the disease or dysfunction is part of a whole person.

Our new paradigm has to do with connectedness, relativity, complexity, multiple possibilities and nonlinear mind-body unity. The practice of myofascial release has to do with wholeness, connectedness (connective tissue), the wave and particle theory, and the subatomic realm of quantum physics.

Quantum physics is the awareness and facilitation of interwoven, nonlinear systems where the whole makes sense of the parts, unlike reductionism where the parts make sense of the whole. This requires a change of perspective and represents a “breakthrough in science. It connects living biological systems to physics and shows nature to be much more than just mechanical. The whole universe is alive and participating,” as referenced in Body-Centered Psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method, by Ron Kurtz.

Myofascial release is a logical expansion of the very roots of the health professions. It does not necessitate the dismantling of their framework, but rather represents a powerfully effective addition of a series of concepts and techniques that enhance and mesh with our medical, dental and therapeutic training.


Therapeutic Insight: The John F. Barnes' Myofascial Release Perspective—Fragmented Thinking, MASSAGE MagazineHere we are 25 years later, and I’m still being asked similar questions. “What is the myofascial perspective of the neurobiological explanation of myofascial release?” The neurobiological explanation is the old, traditional perspective that everything functions as a result of the brain and nervous system.

That is a reductionist point of view, which was proven to be an inadequate method to understand humans back in 1923 by Max Planck, the father of quantum physics. Of course it’s nerves, but the function of the fascia is dependent on far more than nerves. This perspective demonstrates a lack of understanding of new research on the fascial system that supports and verifies what I have been teaching about the fascia for 40 years. Every nerve of your body is imbedded within the fascial system, and if restricted, totally controlled by it. Fascia has a liquid crystalline nature and there are many new scientific studies that support this.

In the book, The Extracellular Matrix and Ground Regulation: Basis for a Holistic Biological Medicine, Alfred Pischinger, one of Germany’s leading scientists, stated there is no nerve or blood vessel that touches any of the 100 trillion cells in your body. Nerve conduction is too slow to explain the instantaneous action of every cell throughout your body. Our primary communication system consists of frequencies of light that travel through the fluidity of our fascial system, the ground substance, which is the environment of every cell of our body. If you look at this picture of a neuronal cell, provided by Carol Davis, Ed.D., P.T., you will see it is encased in fascia, the cytoskeleton.

As a myofascial release therapist, it is helpful to move away from the fragmented, linear, reductionist mode of thinking into a more global, felt sense of our environment and our world. As we begin to understand the beauty of the fractal nature of ourselves and our universe, we will have more accuracy and enhanced ability to help others.

I’d like to finish with an old Greek saying: “No matter how far you have gone on a wrong road, turn back.”

John Barnes, MASSAGE MagazineJohn F. Barnes, P.T., L.M.T., N.C.T.M.B., is an international lecturer, author and acknowledged expert in the area of myofascial release. He has instructed more than 100,000 therapists worldwide in his Myofascial Release approach, and he is the author of Myofascial Release: the Search for Excellence (Rehabilitation Services Inc., 1990) and Healing Ancient Wounds: the Renegade’s Wisdom (Myofascial Release Treatment Centers & Seminars, 2000). He is on the counsel of advisors of the American Back Society; he is also on MASSAGE Magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board; and is a member of the American Physical Therapy Association. For more information, visit

For more information about myofascial release, access two excerpts from the Fireside Chat with John F. Barnes, PT DVD on YouTube:

To connect with John Barnes on Facebook, visit